Since we're not likely to see another Mario platformer on the DS anytime soon, I was pleased to find out that Nintendo and developer TOSE were finally bringing the Starfy series to the Western Hemisphere. The Legendary Starfy is the fifth game in this aquatic action series and the first to make it out of Japan, and I'd hoped it would scratch the same itch that New Super Mario Bros. did on the DS a few years ago.
Starfy's gameplay isn't as dynamic or satisfying, however, as it was in Mario's last handheld outing. The game's artwork and characters are cute as heck (almost sickeningly so), making it suitable for any DS-playing rugrats you have running around. As a pure platformer, though, it didn't have the chops to satisfy me in the same way other, more refined games (many from Nintendo itself) have done.
The Legendary Starfy is a joy to look at, full of big, colorful, well-animated sprites and a tasteful combination of 2D and (where appropriate) 3D backgrounds. You've got all these exaggerated characters based on all kinds of marine wildlife--starfish, lobsters, clams, a space rabbit (?)--yapping away at each other in nicely animated cutscenes that tell the game's simple storyline.
The dramatic interludes intrude on the action a little too often for my taste; everyone but the silent Starfy is too talkative for their own good, and though the game was translated into English according to Nintendo's usual impeccable standards, the dialogue is too earnest, and not nearly clever or tongue-in-cheek enough, to warrant the amount of jabbering that stands in the way of the action. There are a few laugh-out-loud moments, though, and the characters are all likable enough, even when you wish they'd just stop jawing and let you get on with things.
When you do get into the gameplay, you'll find Starfy has a rather basic set of platforming moves: double jumps, gliding, a spin attack, and so on. You can team up with your space rabbit friend to assume a few alternate animal forms with special powers, and there's the occasional special level that has you doing things like riding in a mine cart. But mostly, the game is about exploring simplistic levels to look for hidden items, spin your way through some benign enemies, and find the doorway to the next section of the level.
You do get different controls depending on whether Starfy is underwater, where you can swim very quickly, or on dry land, where the game plays more like a traditional platformer. This helps give the gameplay a little more variety, but there were also times where I felt like I was switching between the two styles--which use some of the same buttons for different actions--too quickly to keep up with which button did what. The collision detection is also a little weird in spots, so overall the action doesn't feel as precise as you'd expect it to in a game like this.
There are a few other features around the game's periphery, but they don't really address the core action. You can collect a bunch of outfits and accessories to dress Starfy up in, but it would be nice if these actually applied to your in-game character rather than just a 3D model in your menu screen. There are a ton of secret levels to unlock outside the main story ones, where you can find more secrets, and you can invite a second player to control Starfy's female counterpart Starly for boss battles and at a few other predefined moments (though the bosses are generally easier to manage by yourself than with another player gumming up the works).
The Legendary Starfy really seems targeted at a younger audience. With its cartoon-like visuals and light challenge level, kids will probably eat it right up--and it's surely a higher quality game than most of the child-oriented DS games on the market, coming as it does with the highly polished sheen characteristic of all Nintendo games. Maybe if Starfy had been around in the Western market for years and engendered the same sort of nostalgia that we older gamers feel for franchises like Mario, I'd be more forgiving of this game's simplistic nature--but as a newcomer to the series, I found myself wanting for a platformer with a little more meat on its bones.